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When Hurricane Michael devastated parts of the Florida Panhandle, Georgia, and the Carolinas earlier this month, killing at least 45 people, the disaster struck a chord with Dale Katechis, founder of Oskar Blues Brewery in Longmont.
Five years ago, in September 2013, massive flooding ravaged El Paso and Boulder counties, leaving eight people dead and causing more than $1 billion in damages. But there was some good to come from the devastation. Spurred by the urge to help others who were affected by the flooding, Katechis and some of his employees banded together to create the Can’d Aid Foundation.
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The nonprofit was originally intended to assist in disaster recovery—primarily by donating canned water to communities in need. Over the past five years, the organization has used its local canning facilities to can and ship more than 1.25 million cans of water nationwide, including to Flint, Michigan; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and, yes, more than 66,000 cans were sent to the Florida Panhandle in mid-October.
“When we experienced that our hometown was affected [by the floods], it kind of puts a stamp on you,” Katechis says. “When you hear of other things going on, whether it’s a hurricane or another flood or someone that has gone through that type of devastation, it becomes part of your soul and your culture. It’s also very fulfilling because it takes us back to that time where we experienced a thing, and I feel we can provide a more meaningful level of support because we’ve lived it.”
Today, Can’d Aid has grown to provide more than, well, canned aid. One of its initiatives, Treads and Trails, focuses on providing outdoor activities and stewardship opportunities across the U.S. The nonprofit has hosted 32 bike-build days, during which volunteers can help build new treads for children of low-income backgrounds. So far, 2,300 have been donated. To complement this program, the nonprofit has partnered with notable athletes, like professional mountain biker Jeff Lenosky, who has presented bike demos to children (along with some free wheels made during one of Can’d Aid’s bike-builds.)
The organization also helps community members give back through activities like river and beach cleanups, and tree plantings. To wit: Volunteers have helped plant more than 8,000 trees and participated in river cleanups at places like Colorado’s Yampa River and Rogue River in Michigan, totaling more than 4,500 hours of work.
“The whole sentiment behind Can’d Aid and our ‘do-goodery’ is that we all have the ability to give back and do good, and we’re trying to create these really low-barrier-to-entry, easy opportunities for people to come out and build community through these little things,” says Diana Ralston, executive director of Can’d Aid. “Planting trees, cleaning up trash up along a stretch of river, helping improve trail access—all of that is just aiming for a better playground to go out and explore and enjoy.”
Can’d Aid has also partnered with touring musicians like Denver-based pop-rock band One Flew West to provide hands-on music workshops for students, free music instruments, and a special opportunity to perform some of their songs. Altogether, Can’d Aid has donated more than 900 string, brass, and electronic instruments to children who can then create their own music.
It’s not every day that something so positive comes from a tragedy, but Can’d Aid has found a way to redefine philanthropy—one extraordinary effort at a time.
Get Involved: You can donate to Can’d Aid’s efforts, and keep an eye out for upcoming volunteer opportunities. On December 7, SunSquabi is hosting a benefit concert for Can’d Aid at the Bluebird Theater, with 100 percent of proceeds going to the organization’s TUNES program. Buy tickets here.